Watt to do in Watts?

Watt to do in Watts?

Two years ago I decided to apply for an Americorps program called City Year.  It’s a national program with members all across the country who are committed to education and working in schools with a low poverty rate.  The overall mission is that your zip code shouldn’t determine your education.  I was completely sold.  When I was accepted into the program, I eagerly awaited the email that would tell me which neighborhood in Los Angeles I would be serving in.  Finally, in the middle of Summer 2015 I found out: I would be serving in Watts.
To be honest, the only thing I knew about Watts was the Watts Riots.  My family was worried, reminding me to drive right to the school in the morning and right home in the afternoon, but I told them it would be fine and the program would aptly prepare us for what was to come. Two weeks of intense training later and we started our first day. I was placed in a fourth grade classroom on 93rd St. and I pretty quickly fell in love with teaching, with my students, and with Watts.

It has now been two years and that neighborhood I was so ignorant of has become one I am quite comfortable in.  Although I realize I am still an outsider and not a resident of Watts, I wanted to share a few spots that I recommend if you too are an outsider wanting to visit a new neighborhood.

First, if you are hungry, you should absolutely check out Locol (1950 E. 103rd St.): an iconic lunch spot started by renown chef Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson. You’ve probably heard of Choi’s most famous feat: Kogi.  Well, a couple years back he started something new and boy did it work.  Their goal was to develop a restaurant with good, healthy, and inexpensive food choices in Watts, a neighborhood known as being a “food desert” for it’s gaps in healthy choices.   The food is made from the heart with always fresh ingredients and most importantly it tastes GREAT.  They employ people from the community as well, which is obviously so important and one of the main reasons you can tell they care about Watts. Most everything is under $10 and the portions are generous.  Everything I’ve had tastes great so you really can’t go wrong.

To quench that thirst you’re probably feeling after such a great meal, head on over to Watts Coffee House (1827 E. 103rd St.).  This shop is housed in what used to be a community rec room and is now a beautifully decorated space that is a sort of time capsule to Black culture.  The space was re-opened in 1997 after the riots rent-free, granted the owner, Desiree Edwards, keep it geared to the community of Watts.  It is a sit-down restaurant if you want more than just a quick cup of coffee and there is always good conversation to be had.  The food is home cooked and delicious as well.  Something you can’t miss while you’re there is a look at the art and music all around you.  There is a beautiful array of the old and the new; all by local artists, of course.

Interior of the Watts Coffee Shop

Finally, I can’t write about this neighborhood without mentioning one of the most famous art installations in the city: the Watts Towers (1765 E. 107th St.).  The towers are are a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural structures within the Simon Rodia State Historic Park in the Watts community of Los Angeles. The tallest of the towers is over 99 feet (30 m)! The towers and walls were designed and built by Sabato Rodia (1879–1965), an Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason, over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. They are built with steel and wire mesh, and decorated with objects he found in the area including mosaic tiles, rock, glass, and clay.  Today, the Towers stand just as tall and proud as ever with the Watts Towers Arts Center as the curator and guardian.  The Arts Center hosts tours and exhibits, and most importantly promotes social change through supporting local artists and educators.

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